On Standardized Testing

Big portions of the Internet seem to be going all sturm und drang over this account of the horrific evils of standardized testing. A lot of the drama is from teachers bitching about them, which is… understandable. And there are a lot of rants from parents about various flaws with standardized, one-size-fits-all tests (or at least how they’re used).

And those are probably quite good and important conversations to have, I freely admit. I just kind of think a lot of people are really missing the point.

The Washington Post article re-posts a post that re-posts a middle-school teacher’s account of administering a reading-assessment test to eleven-year-old pupils. In that account, the teacher wrings his or her hands over the grievous cultural insensitivity of the test. Goodness, there are homonyms! Homonyms, I tell you! And questions predicated upon a patriarchal position of privilege and entitlement, and and and and…

What the teacher has, very ironically, somehow entirely failed to grasp is that this is an assessment test, and one (as far as I can tell) meant to be used at all grades. The students, especially those in fifth grade, aren’t supposed to be able to get every question right. Hell, if the test is accurate and honest, students in twelfth grade shouldn’t be able to get every question right. If they feel “stupid” because he or she’s failed to explain this clearly to them, that’s not their fault. It’s that of the teacher.

I took tests just like that, if not that exact same test, when I was in school two decades ago. Being an idiot, I probably didn’t do very well. But you know why I didn’t care? Why I wasn’t left a retrograde emotional wreck? Because the teachers I had made it clear up front that it was a test given to everyone up to and including high school seniors, and tested up to a post-graduate reading level. I was told up front I wasn’t expected to know much of that stuff. Do my best, don’t take it too seriously, and have fun. It wasn’t like “Aw crud, I only scored a 60 on that test? Kill me now”, but “Heck yeah, I got 60 questions right on that test! I bet that’s better than some of the mouth-breathing cretins on the varsity football team!”

What the teacher whining in this article is essentially advocating is dumbing down a fricking assessment test so that it becomes completely and utterly useless, in order to spare students’ feelings. Seriously. School shouldn’t be hard, or a challenge. To anyone! Making the students smart would be hard, so let’s just make the tests really fricking easy. “Teaching to the test” isn’t bad enough, apparently; this teacher thinks we should lower the bar some more and test to the lowest possible common denominator.

Which is so very much why the education system is completely broken in this country.

I mean, in fifth grade, you’ve probably got some small percentage of students reading at ninth or tenth grade levels, and a whole bunch reading at a third or fourth grade level, because schools just generally suck at actually educating people these days. And if you’ve got “special” pupils from differently-snowflake-y backgrounds, you’ve probably got a few who read at what should, honestly, be a second grade level.

But who cares how well, if at all, kids today can read! When the whole point of the “education” system is to teach people stuff that’s on tests that count, testing their cognitive and developmental levels is, possibly literally, counterproductive! Apparently, it’s unforgivable to this teacher to administer assessment tests that even one student anywhere isn’t going to confidently pass with flying colors, so in their world fifth graders should, if testing to discover what if anything they know is really an unavoidable burden, probably be tested at about what would have, a few years ago, been about a second grade level. Most if not all will pass, many will ace the test, it’ll be completely useless and won’t provide a single meaningful bit of information to the teacher or the school district or anyone, but… it’ll make many of the barely-literate students feel good about themselves, I guess. Which, it appears, is all schools now exist to do, sadly.

Standardized tests generally suck, don’t get me wrong. And the culture of utterly worthless “education” they have fostered over the last decade or two is reprehensible. However, if you’d like to know how moronic the broken system has left your students, an aptitude test that isn’t dumbed down and doesn’t pull any punches is the way to go, students’ precious egos be damned.

Swear to God, a decade from now, the final exam for twelfth-grade math is going to be the following question:

Name any combination of eight states, professional athletes, animals, colors, plants, and/or Pokemon.

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…and students lose two points out of one-hundred for filling in more or less than eight of the twelve lines.

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', General | on October 7th, 2013| No Comments »

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